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Detroit — U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence is backing Sen. Kamala Harris of California for president.

The Southfield Democrat endorsed Harris on Thursday morning in the wake of the party’s second presidential primary debate in Detroit, where Harris sparred over health care with former Vice President Joe Biden and over criminal justice with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. 

"I watched the debate last night, and I have a criteria," Lawrence said on CNN. "I'm looking for someone who has a command of the issues, someone who has the tenacity and the strength and courage to fight Donald Trump. And I'm also looking for someone who has compassion for this country, and I feel very strongly about endorsing Sen. Harris."

Lawrence is only the second member of Michigan’s Democratic congressional delegation to endorse in the crowded presidential primary. She’s the ninth member of the Congressional Black Caucus to back Harris, according to the campaign.

In a statement, Harris said she is “excited to have Brenda’s support in this race,” calling Lawrence a “career public servant” who has “long been on the front lines fighting for working families and their needs.”

“Brenda knows first-hand the issues that keep people up at night,” Harris said. “I’m grateful that she stands with me and my 3AM Agenda to tackle those challenges with bold solutions that will have a direct impact on the lives of working families and communities across the country.”

Lawrence serves as 2nd vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s issues. She spent 14 years as Southfield mayor before winning election to the U.S. House in 2014.

The third-term congresswoman represents Michigan’s sprawling 14th District, which snakes from Pontiac south through Oakland County and draws in parts of northern and east Detroit and the Grosse Pointes in Wayne County.

Harris on Wednesday night debated Biden over her proposed version of Medicare for All, which would create a government-run health insurance system but allow private health insurers to operate within that system. She defended her role as California attorney general against an aggressive attack from Gabbard.

Biden has led in most major polls of the primary race.

“Vice President Biden has had a tremendous career” and “shown leadership in so many ways,” Lawrence said. “But for this time, and this race, I feel that Sen. Harris has the ability, the tenacity, the strength and the compassion – the vision – to be able to move this country forward and win the race, which is very important.”

Harris last month partnered with Lawrence and Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township to announce clean water legislation that calls for a $250 billion federal investment in infrastructure upgrades, accessibility programs and PFAS regulations.

The plan would boost funding for water quality testing, remediation efforts including lead service line replacement and water bill assistance for low-income homes in areas near environmental hazards or pollution.

Lawrence backed Hillary Clinton for president last cycle, formally endorsing her over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in November 2015.  Republican President Donald Trump won the state’s general election over Clinton by 10,704 votes.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for president heading into the Tuesday night debate. 

Other members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have not taken sides in what is currently a 25-candidate race. Michigan’s primary is set for March 10.

Kildee said Wednesday he has “preferences” in the race but is more focused on urging candidates to develop solutions that address the needs of communities like Flint, which still grappling with fallout from its water contamination crisis. 

“I’m less interested in endorsing a candidate than having a candidate endorse an agenda that makes a difference for us here in Michigan,” he told The Detroit News.

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, said Tuesday she may not endorse in the primary.

“Right now, that is my thinking,” she said. “There’s so many candidates. There’s so many views within my district. I don’t think anyone is looking for my view on this, and my view won’t be the clincher that makes a decision for them.”

joosting@detroitnews.com

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